1/05/2023·4 mins to read
Taranaki Mounga Settlement: Legal Personality and Co-governance - a feature of modern settlements?
A historic agreement may soon see Taranaki Mounga returned to Ngā Iwi o Taranaki, paving the way for a new relationship between the Crown and mana whenua.
As part of the Treaty settlement package, Taranaki Mounga (and other peaks) will be granted legal personhood, with a board appointed by both Crown and iwi to co-govern its interests.
What you need to know
Taranaki Mounga will be provided legal personhood, known as Te Kāhui Tupua, to protect the interests of the Mounga and enhance its mana.
Te Kāhui Tupua and its interests will be jointly managed by Te Tōpuni Kōkōrangi, a board consisting of both Crown and iwi representatives.
This move towards co-governance and legal personhood is part of a growing trend in modern Treaty settlements, following in the footsteps of Whanganui Awa, Te Urewera, and Waikato Awa.
A historic agreement may soon see Taranaki Mounga returned to Ngā Iwi o Taranaki, paving the way for a new relationship between the Crown and mana whenua. As part of the Treaty settlement package, Taranaki Mounga (and other peaks) will be granted legal personhood, with a board appointed by both Crown and iwi to co-govern its interests.
Taranaki Mounga is a peak of immense significance to multiple iwi in (and outside) the Taranaki region, including Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Maru, Te Ātiawa, Taranaki, Ngā Ruahine, Ngā Ruanui and Ngā Rauru. The mounga was confiscated by the Crown in 1865, along with 1.2 million hectares of surrounding land, in retaliation for actions in the Taranaki wars. Over 100 years later, it was vested in the Taranaki Māori Trust Board before being immediately gifted back to the Crown. The Waitangi Tribunal found in 1996 that there was “no valid legal basis for the mountain’s confiscation” and that it was “unaware of evidence that the hapu agreed” to the gifting back of the mounga to the Crown in the 1970’s. Negotiations for the return of Taranaki Mounga (and surrounding peaks) began over 6 years ago.
Legal personhood for natural features
The granting of legal personhood for natural features and places is not novel in the context of Treaty settlements: both the Whanganui River and Te Urewera have been granted legal personhood. In these two instances, the awa, ngāhere and mounga have been awarded legal personhood to recognise and enhance the mana of tūpuna (ancestors) of local iwi. However, each settlement differs in its terms and the eventual governance structure used to give voice to the legal personality. Legal personhood provides Te Kāhui Tupua with the rights of a legal person. While these rights will be defined by the terms of the Deed, they typically include owning property, enter contracts, representation and the ability to commence legal proceedings.
Legal personhood also carries implications for local authorities. Negotiator Jamie Tuuta indicated that he anticipates Te Tōpuni Kōkōrangi will be treated “as though it is an iwi authority” and “make submissions and be able to participate in planning processes”. Despite this, negotiator Liana Poutu emphasised that there will still be obligations to also engage with individual iwi and hapū.
Co-governance: Treaty-based joint management
While co-governance is a current political focus, co-governance over features and places of significance, like legal personality, is not new. Existing joint management arrangements exist in a range of contexts including both the Resource Management Act 1991 and Treaty settlements. For instance, Te Urewera is governed by a Board comprised of both representatives from the Crown and from Ngāi Tūhoe. Te Tōpuni Kōkōrangi is similarly comprised and we anticipate will represent Te Kāhui Tupua in a range of forums. The Crown's approach to Te Tiriti settlements indicates a potential for other significant features and places to be granted legal personalities in the future, such as Tongariro or Ruapehu.
Ultimately, we consider that the key consideration being lost in the current debate on co-governance is the first principles that underpin current joint management arrangements: the protection and enhancement of the environment and giving effect to Treaty partnership. These principles underpin existing arrangements. We anticipate that, provided they continue to be a touchstone for future arrangements, joint management is a positive mechanism that enhances the mana of te taiao, tangata whenua and Aotearoa | New Zealand as a whole.
Mount Egmont National Park will be renamed as Te Papakura o Taranaki, remaining a national park and the Department of Conservation retaining day-to-day management.
Te Kāhui Tupua will be represented by Tōpuni Kōkōrangi, with half the members appointed by the Crown and half appointed by iwi.
Tōpuni Kōkōrangi will develop management plans for Te Papakura o Taranaki, which will be approved by both the Minister of Conservation and a group comprising representatives from all iwi of Taranaki called Te Tōpuni Ngarahu.
The settlement deed will now go to the multiple hapū of Ngā Iwi o Taranaki for ratification.
Special thanks to Madeline Ash and Taha Brown for their assistance in writing this article.